Pontiac — Oakland County’s executive told commissioners Wednesday that he has ordered budget cuts ahead of any reopening of the county government closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the county’s solid fiscal shape.
County Executive David Coulter told the seven-member Emergency Operations and Oversight Committee to expect additional costs after commissioners approved $16.5 million in emergency funds to buy PPEs and COVID-19 tests.
“We are generally in good shape,” said Coulter, who made his remarks at the start of the committee’s first prebudget sessions. “But there are some matters we will need to address before we begin to phase back workers.”
In the past six weeks, the virus has claimed the lives of more than 500 county’s residents and another 6,000 residents tested positive for the virus. About 100,000 residents have filed unemployment claims during the pandemic.
Coulter has until July to prepare a budget for approval by the full commission. He told the Emergency Operations and Oversight Committee on Wednesday that for the remainder of the fiscal year he has ordered:
•A hiring freeze (approved by the board)
•$3 million in cuts in discretionary capital improvement projects
•Banned out-of-state travel
•Requested renegotiation of service contracts with vendors
As the county makes plans for the return of its workforce, Coulter said hazard pay, currently at time and a half, will drop to 1.35. He said department heads are being asked to submit what workforces are needed to reopen county services. Those plans, he said, could include temporary furloughs of workers.
No specific reduction numbers were available Wednesday. Coulter said after the meeting that it would be “a small number.”
Oakland County also is setting up a COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force to make recommendations to elected officials to stabilize and support small businesses and community organizations.
Some members of the committee said they were eager to put a plan together for going back to work next month. Commissioner Mike Gingell, R-Lake Orion, told committee members that “opening up our operations and economy opening up” are on his mind.
“People are getting frustrated and if we don’t have a plan, people are going to do what they think is best,” said Commissioner Michael Spisz, R-Oxford. “They are already doing it. I fear it’s going to get worse and worse.”
Coulter said any loosening of restrictions for the county’s 1.2 million residents — including business closures, social distancing or preventive measures such as wearing masks and gloves — will depend on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders and directives from the Oakland County Health Department.
“The state of our county is strong and that strength gives us the opportunity to beat COVID-19 and help our businesses and residents,” he said. “As the engine of economic growth for the state, it is vital that we get back on our feet quickly.”
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